Ah, the sound of those crashing press wrenches late at night

Walt Mares Photo/Gila Herald: This is a copy of a 1980s Valley Courier front page. Located in Alamosa, Colorado, the award-winning paper serves a six-county area. In the late 1970s, its press room was the setting for the mysterious sound heard late at night of large press wrenches being tossed about on the floor. Reporters in the newsroom investigated the sound but saw nothing out of place. The noise was heard many times and remained inexplicable.

It began happening after our pressman died

Column By Walt Mares

Call it a ghost story if you wish to. What I know is that it is true.  

The subject is Walt Huffman, the pressman at the Valley Courier newspaper in Alamosa, Colorado when I wrote sports in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The sound presented itself late at night, Sundays or Mondays, as we finished calling coaches for stats from weekend sports action. We covered a six-county area. That involved working late into the night.

There was no way we – then-sports editor John Young and I – should have heard what we heard happening on the other side of our newsroom wall that separated us from the pressroom and the big offset press poised to produce the next day’s paper. 

That press was deafening as it cranked out each day’s edition. However, one sound could be heard above the roar: the pressman throwing wrenches onto the wooden floor. One would have thought the floor’s surface might muffle, at least to some degree, the sound as the wrenches landed, but it did not. The pressman would throw a wrench to the floor as he grabbed a different one to use on another part of the press. 

It saved time to drop one wrench and grab. Wrenches would be hung on their proper places only after the press run was finished. 

Walt Huffman was the head pressman. He was a World War II veteran and had a hook for a hand he lost in the European Theater. It was amazing that with his disability he could still function a press what with all of its moving parts, and that at his age and medium stature he could lift those heavy wrenches.

Then came the annual a July 4 parade for which Walt, a member of the local American Legion, always held the American flag at the front of the procession. Walt left an hour or so before it started. He left the press prepared for that day’s run. 

Around 1 p.m. we received the news. Walt had suffered a heart attack and died instantly during the parade. As he began falling, another veteran grabbed the flag from him and never let it touch the ground.  Walt would have been proud of that.

Fast-forward a year, or maybe two. That’s when John and I heard, late one night, the sound of a wrench crashing on to the pressroom floor. Alarmed? From what I remember, we just looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and continued typing.  

Then came a second, and a third time when again the sound was heard. This time we went into the press room to investigate. Nothing was out of place. The wrenches were hanging where they were supposed to be. 

The floor had been completely swept – not so much as a small pile of dust or any litter. There was nothing on the floor that even resembled a wrench or anything else that could have fallen. 

After that, we just ignored the sounds of the crashing wrenches and we would mutter, “Well, it sounds like Walt’s back,” or, “Walt’s back again, eh?”

The darkroom where we developed our film and printed out photos was located at that rear of the building. We had to pass through the press room to reach the darkroom. We made sure we left the door open between the newsroom and the press. Thankfully, the light from the newsroom was sufficient to see our way to the darkroom.

I do not remember if the newsroom light was comforting as we passed through by the press, but it at least kept us from bumping into anything – or anything from bumping into us.

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